Former worker at Mazzoni fights for unemployment benefits

Judge gavel and rainbow ribbon of LGBT pride on gray background.
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Attorneys for Naasik A. Fuller, a former employee at Mazzoni Center, filed an appeal this week regarding an unfavorable decision by an unemployment compensation referee, denying Fuller’s request for unemployment benefits.

“My client was not treated fairly by Mazzoni Center,” said Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Fuller. “They were not given a chance. Also, they were not treated fairly during the unemployment hearing. We are hopeful that, on appeal, the decision will be reversed.”

On Nov. 17, unemployment compensation referee Jay M. Apfelbaum ruled that Fuller isn’t eligible for benefits, citing a workplace incident during which Fuller allegedly acted in an intentionally disruptive manner.

Fuller, 31, worked at the center’s Bainbridge Street office for about five months as a community health worker/care coordinator. Fuller is nonbinary and earned about $344 weekly at Mazzoni until June 2023, when they were fired. Fuller says they tried their best to do their job while also raising awareness about alleged deficiencies within the organization.

Shortly before issuing his ruling, Apfelbaum held a 90-minute hearing on the dispute.

Three witnesses representing Mazzoni testified during the hearing. They are: Karen Kessler, human resources generalist; Faith Mole; community health initiatives director; and Michael Ramirez, clinical support services manager. All three provided testimony indicating Fuller didn’t fulfill the workplace expectations of Mazzoni.

Mazzoni was represented at the hearing by attorney Geoffrey D. Bruen. 

At the beginning of the hearing, Apfelbaum told both sides there wouldn’t be any opening or closing arguments. He said unemployment compensation hearings are administrative in nature rather than civil proceedings.

“Our rules are more Loosey-Goosey, if you will,” Apfelbaum quipped, referring to the informal nature of the hearing.

Apfelbaum noted there were three attorneys present, counting himself. 

“We are all lawyers in this room,” Apfelbaum said. “The three of us. I don’t expect you to behave. My job is to keep you in line.”

If either side has an issue with his handling of the matter, they would be welcome to file an appeal with the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, Apfelbaum added.

Apfelbaum asked everyone in attendance to introduce themselves and spell their names. However, Apfelbaum didn’t ask for their pronouns. Fuller conveyed to Apfelbaum that they’re non-binary and asked not to be addressed as “sir.”

“You’re calling me a sir and I’m not a sir,” Fuller told Apfelbaum.

Apfelbaum apologized to Fuller.

“I’m an old man,” he told Fuller. “Cut me a little slack here and I’ll do my best.”

Fuller said it would be fine to be addressed simply as Naasik. Apfelbaum settled on addressing Fuller as “Mx. Fuller” throughout the hearing. But at one point, Apfelbaum referred to Fuller as “Miss Fuller.”

The first witness was Mole. She conveyed that Fuller’s job performance wasn’t in line with Mazzoni’s expectations. She said Fuller expressed the need for additional support to perform their job duties. However, Fuller allegedly declined the support that was offered to them. Mole also testified that Fuller allegedly was disruptive in the workplace and made it difficult for other workers to learn and grow.

Ramirez testified that Fuller was disruptive in the workplace. Ramirez said that during one meeting, Fuller repeatedly interrupted a presentation of their supervisor. During the meeting, Fuller allegedly said, “I hope nobody heard anything she [supervisor] said.”

Kessler testified that Fuller violated numerous job expectations at Mazzoni. She said Fuller’s alleged violations include disrespect, lack of dignity, lack of sensitivity and insubordination. “[Fuller] definitely went against expectations of what workplace conduct is,” Kessler testified.

Fuller testified they did their best to perform their job but they weren’t given appropriate assistance and resources. Fuller said they never received an employee handbook or personnel manual regarding their employment. Fuller also said Mazzoni’s union didn’t do enough to help improve the situation.

Moreover, Fuller denied being a disruptive presence at Mazzoni. Instead, they consistently tried to get training and resources to perform their job effectively, Fuller testified. 

“I felt alone,” Fuller told Apfelbaum. “I was asking a lot of clarifying questions [at staff meetings] and trying to figure out what was going on…I was asking for help.”

Fuller added: “I was being condescended to, not actually met with [as an equal].”

In closing, Fuller emphasized they were eager to perform their job at Mazzoni. 

“That’s why I didn’t quit,” they asserted.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Apfelbaum apologized once again to Fuller if he overlooked their nonbinary status. 

“I try my very best to understand,” Apfelbaum said. “You are entitled to the best effort I can give you.”Bruen issued this statement on behalf of Mazzoni: “Naasik Fuller’s separation from Mazzoni Center was supported by just cause and was wholly legitimate.  The Center is gratified that the unemployment appeals Referee agreed that the evidence in their unemployment case bore this out. We intend to continue to vigorously defend any other frivolous legal matters Mx. Fuller intends to bring against the organization.”

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